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Mazut pollution washing up on Hiiumaa, Vormsi likely from leaking old wreck

In an interview with ETV news broadcast "Aktuaalne kaamera" on Monday, Rainer Vakra, director general of the Environmental Board, said that the extensive mazut pollution discovered on the shores of the Western Estonian islands of Hiiumaa and Vormsi is likely coming from a leaking old wreck somewhere.

"This is definitely old pollution, as is also indicated by our modeling," Vakra said, noting that the substance in question is residual oil mazut that has formed into clumps due to recent weather conditions and colder temperatures. "Otherwise it would remain floating as a thin film on the surface of the sea. And actually, monitoring various satellite images as well, we haven't found any pollution on the surface of the sea."

Vakra explained that this pollution can largely be cleaned up without causing further damage in the mornings and evenings, when it's cooler, adding that thus far, the board has not found evidence of fish or birds impacted by the mazut. Left on the shore, however, the clumps of mazut will begin to melt back into its liquid state as temperatures warm up during the day, at which point it will pose a greater risk to marine and bird life.

"Thus, in any case, the more we're able to clean this up, the better," he added.

"We're literally racing against the clock," he explained. "It must be noted that the Rescue Board, Hiiumaa, Vormsi Municipality and the Environmental Board have been cooperating very well. And I know that more volunteers are coming each day to help. This is unfortunately something that can only be done by hand; we cannot use heavy machinery or anything else to do this."

The director general stressed that this pollution has not been caused by the bunkering, or refueling, of ships.

"Of course, every activity is always a risk, but in this particular case we can say that this is most likely some leaking old wreck, or an accident that occurred a very long time ago, not bunkering," he said. "All risks should be mitigated as best possible. But this pollution is residual pollution from an older time."

He added that the true culprit may not ever be definitively determined.

"We're doing everything we can to find the culprit, but it may happen that we'll ultimately never know," Vakra said. "But we're currently mapping out all shipwrecks in the region, i.e. north of Vormsi to ensure that none of them — be it a wreck from World War II or later — is continuing to leak on a daily basis, which would mean that the same type of pollution will wash up on the shores again after some time. This must surely be avoided."

Mazut pollution in Hiiumaa. Source: Hiiumaa Municipality

Volunteers needed for cleanup

The Environmental Board is hoping to get hundreds of volunteers to come help clean up the mazut.  Hiiumaa Municipal Mayor Hergo Tasuja already issued a call for volunteer help on Monday.

"We will start with areas people tend to use more often," Tasuja told ERR. "The vicinity of (island capital) Kärdla, the area between Hausma and Rannapaargu and the Tõrvanina Beach area. Next, we will move down the coastline to less frequented places."

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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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